The Guinea Grill
30 Bruton Place, W1J 6NL
WLC Rank : 87
Glass from : £ 7.20 (125 ml)
An inn has stood here on Bruton Place since 1423 when The Pound looked over fields. Today, a slightly Raymond Revuebar neon script wraps the bay window of Young’s flagship, The Guinea Grill, under which a commissionaire, in top hat and gold-accented green tails beckons diners in for oysters, steak, ales and generally classic, rested wines. It is charismatically run by Oisin Rogers, an Irishman characterized by hair approximating that of a Lagotto Romagnolos and a surprisingly angelic singing voice. Twice a week, the excellent mine host dons a tall toque to help head chef, Nathan Richardson cook the famous bone-in rib eyes, dry-aged by butchers, Godfreys. He also finds time to oversee The Windmill nearby.
Assisting Rogers is sommelier, Vladimir Olaru who grew up in a vinous family. “My grandfather had a huge vineyard in Moldova, and my uncles still grow indigenous Rkatsiteli and Feteasca, as well as Pinot Noir.” Olaru came to The Guinea Grill by accident and got stuck. “After a decade working for Marriot, I opted to take a year off to appraise matters,” he says. “I did some agency work to fill up my weekends, and although I never wanted to work in a pub, one day they sent me to the Guinea where I met then publican, Carl Smith who asked me to stick around for a week or two and see if I liked it…” Olaru recalls back then the pub, “felt like an unofficial men’s club – and we still don’t see many ladies today.” It’s a busier venue today, though, with the upstairs private room often serving as, “an overspill for restaurant diners.”
In the cellar, wines vie for space beside kegs of Guinness, while supplier, Berkmann holds younger vintages until deemed ready. “It’s a hard process to hunt older bottles, and I give our supplier a fine wine wish list,” says Olaru.
Begin with Scottish native oysters and Essex Pinot Grigio from New Hall, or devilled kidneys on toast, perhaps with Cabernet Franc, which Olaru notes is increasingly popular with guests, such as that of Morande Adventure El Padre from Maipo, and follow on with a 16oz rib on the bone with a lamb cutlet on the side, as well as and garlic and parmesan courgettes. The main meaty act, which is cooked simply without char to preserve its wholesomeness, will work with one of the many maturing Clarets or a magnum of Château Musar, noting this was one of the first London restaurants to serve the Lebanese wine. There are big guns too from the USA (Insignia, Opus One) and fine-tuned sweeties, ranging from the retro Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise to Château Suduiraut to accompany Roquefort, which Rogers doesn’t wish to blight with crackers.
Of his role, Olaru notes that guests nowadays arrive with a substantially increased wine knowledge, “not like 10 years ago when everyone asked your opinion.” On seeing the feature counter, which is brimming with meat, few guests order white wines, which only account for “10-12% of sales.”
Aside from wine, Olaru is a fanatic of Bourbons which he saves for sipping on Sunday at home, and a keen cyclist and motorcyclist.
By Douglas Blyde.